Steamboat Springs Hayden Police Chief Ray Birch has been in Iraq for about three months, and the Steamboat Pilot & Today reached him by e-mail to find out how things are going. Birch, who served in the Marine Corps, has been with the Air Force Reserves since 2001 and is a master sergeant.
This is the third time Birch's squadron has deployed since the Sept. 11 attacks and is the group's second Iraq tour.
Steamboat Pilot & Today: When are you heading back home?
Police Chief Ray Birch: Should be heading back in February '09.
SP&T: Have you been able to talk to your family often?
RB: It depends on the tempo of our mission, but I usually have the opportunity to call home about 2 to 3 times a week. It makes a big difference being able to talk to (my wife) Marlene, just hearing her voice and having that connection to home helps a whole lot.
SP&T: How is Andrew doing in Iraq? (Birch's stepson Andrew Statz, a reserve naval corpsman, is serving his first Iraq tour.)
RB: Andrew is doing great; he is assigned to a Marine unit in the western part of Iraq. He was just promoted to non-commissioned officer - his spirits are high; he stays in touch with Mom and is calling home on a regular basis.
SP&T: Do you keep track of the goings-on in Hayden and at the Police Department? Any thoughts on those?
RB: When I call home, Marlene usually gives me an update as far as what is happening countywide. I stay in touch with the town manager, Russ Martin, and Sgt. Gordon Booco via e-mail for local news. My understanding is that they have broken ground on the new police station, which is great news. I am eager to see the progress of the new building; Gordon, (officers) Ed (Corriveau) and Carla (Steele) said they would send photos of the progress. The Hayden town budget is a pretty important issue; my understanding is that people are concerned about the state of our economy. Being deployed in Iraq, I'm not sure I have received enough current news to expound on how this directly impacts our town, but I expect the general tone will be one of very careful consideration, and that is understandable. I have faith in our town leaders, town manager, my staff and our citizens. I'm sure they'll make the right decisions.
One thing I will say, I am extremely proud of the members of the Hayden Police Department; they have shown they are capable of making independent judgments and decisions in my absence, a sign of exceptional professionalism. To me, that's a very positive, progressive step.
SP&T: How do you pass the time when you aren't busy?
RB: We do have a small gym on base. I spend any free time in the gym, working out, then it's the chow hall, sleep and work. We do have a chapel on base. I spend time there on a program designed to provide school supplies to local Iraqi students. Donated supplies are packaged and transported to nearby schools: paper, pencils, pens, notebooks, crayons, etc.
SP&T: What do you miss about Hayden?
RB: I miss my family, my friends, the relaxed environment, clean air, friendly people waving, working around my home, riding horses, watching the seasons change and getting up in the morning whenever I want to, facing a day in which I have no plans or any particular expectations.
SP&T: What do you plan to do first when you return?
RB: Trailer up the horses and take Marlene for a ride.
SP&T: Is this tour different from your other Iraq tours? How?
RB: This tour is very different, the last tour (2004-05) seemed more about pushing for ground, fighting; this tour is more about helping the local nationals build their country and is centered around training and spinning up their military.
SP&T: Do you need anything that the folks from town could send?
RB: The only thing I could think of as far as things to send is phone cards. The younger troops have difficulty affording phone cards for calls home. And the school supply program for the local children.